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Not to Long Ago Recording History in my lifetime

Posted By: Larry Read

Not to Long Ago Recording History in my lifetime - 03/24/07 08:20 AM

Not to long ago we the music makers had but only one choice. I know I did it long ago.

You wanted to record. So you went to a studio.. there were no multitracks..no Computers..no large mixing console.

a few choice microphones and a device called a cutter. Here the Gentleman would place a piece of something that looked like a big flat disk. ?( Record ) You would stand in front of the Mic or Mics and the man would start the motor turning then you would sing and perform and if you messed up they would break the disk and make another. No effects except reverb which was done by putting a speaker in hallway with smooth solid surfaces and a mic at the other end. By adjusting the distance of the mic one could achive a sort of reverb or delay. all this while your song was being cut before your eyes you then took it home and could play it on your turntable.

Move ahead a few years.. and the advent of a WIRE recorder my first one was made by SEARS of course Silvertone. A spool of metal wire wound it's way thru a head that was shaped like a V
and sound was recorded on it.

Next came tape this was to revolutionize the way recordings were made. Reel to Reel as it was called used mylar coated with fine metal shavings basically glued to it. It used the same process as the WIRE by re arranging the magnetic propertys on it sound was produced.

Some one figured out by having two machines one could play back the first recording and sing along with it and record it all on the second deck. Remember Wollensak? called sound on sound.
It was the first time one person could sound like more than one person a pre cursor to modern day multitrack.

then another interesting discovery somone figured out we could use multiple playback heads that were movable to get that echo or slap as we called it ..changing the delay time by moving the heads either closer or further apart. Called an Echoplex it again
chaged the recording scene forever.

Next somone figured out if we made the tape wide enough and stacked the heads on top of each other we could play many parts at different times and we had our first multitracks.
The same head would be used for both playback and recording thus the music remained in sync. The first decks were 3 whopping whole tracks.. used by ELVIS, Frank Sinatra and many other major label performers. The Beatles were one of the first to use 4 tracks// SGT PEPPERS was recorded on 4 tracks. 2 inch wide tape.
effects were improving as well we found if we strecthed a thin sheet of steel suspended by springs we could use a speaker coil the part that moves the cone to move the sheet of metal and placing a movable pickup we could create awsome sounding reverb
known even today as Plate Reverb ..it's still used extensively on Drums and vocals.. One company coined it as EchoPlate..

Finally came 8 tracks.. then 16 ... then 24.. 48.. gezz and all on tape! Tape has a high sample rate so it always sounded great but had a drawback called noisefloor and saturation so we ran it
at high speed to eliminate alot of the problems. As fast as 30 ips.. inches per second.. this gave us about 15 mins per reel at $150 per reel and recording at home was still a joke. If you needed a demo you had to go to a studio. there was no other way.

A few more years.. digital PCM was making a debut.. now we could reduce our music to numbers. It had no noise floor but it lacked the warmth of the old Analog machines before it. Some Studios still use tape and master to digital. I remember seeing the first CD player ever.. Made by a company called STUDER it made it debut at the AES Audio Engineering Convention 1982 and it was expensive!! $2500.00 and no media yet. They had only one disk that we all honored it and went wow!! Little did we know where it would lead..Albums were still the rage and cassettes now a cheap CD deck is $40 bucks.. gezz!!

car wise.. 4 tracks ( two stereo tracks in a loop one side one half of an album the other side two. Side was changed by moving the stereo head up and down.

Then 8 tracks same format but album was divided into 4 parts instead of two. Eaiser to find you favorite song faster/

Then Cassette. this one caught on for a while.. even a DCC Digital Compact Cassette format later was introduced by Philips but did not catch on due to Mini Disks and CD which offered instant access to any song without rewinding or fast forwarding

Now CD for now.. but MP3 is gaining momentum and in the future.. gad!! Who knows.. we can now make recording at home no one laughs at and the incrediable sound we have at our fingertips was not that long agao a pipe dream.

So when somone tells me I can't make it sound good.. or can't do it.. I remember yesterdays Artists who made exceptional recordings with nothing less than talent. I wonder how many of todays artists could create a really good song without all the
Plug Ins and Effects.. I know I CAN and could.

this concludes history of recording studios in my lifetime

Posted By: Larry Read

Re: Not to Long Ago Recording History in my lifetime - 03/24/07 08:59 AM

Oh By The Way...

We now have via our computers UNLIMITED tracks.. No Noise foor at all.. which means even with a basic system you have
a better setup than ELVIS or Frank had way back then.
No tape costs @ $150.00 a reel.. so use the money to get some great mics!

Effects new and old are now sold as ( plug ins ) and for a small
portion of what the physical unit sold for. Literally for pennys on the dollar the software equivelant of it is within reach of almost anyone. Glory Halleluya!!

Example > the first Digital Reverb Installed in my studio back in 1983 then was a Lexicon 224X with LARC.. cost $ 13,500

Software Sound Wise.. well
That's debate-able.. I still like the real deal... outboard gear
its more costly and I still belive it still sounds better.
But the software reverbs I have heard are quite respectable.

AND hey when you can create a song with Gear that we could only dream about back then and with effects that in the 1980's would have cost you $500,000 how can you complain?

Not to mention size of some of the gear...

Example > an EchoPlate was the size of a King Size mattress so where would you put it?

So what am I saying... YOU! yeah YOU! with the Cubase or Sonar or
Garageband or Protools you have more than I had back in the 80's in $3,000,000 studio to work with so stop buying more and more crap and learn to use the state of the art gear you already have
and let me hear a recording as good as ELVIS or Frank did back then with almost nothing.

Even with all the 100's of plug ins I still use mostly reverb and echo.. and a little eq...perhaps a Limiter the rest?? ahhh not really needed doc just a lot of extra fluff.

Posted By: Brian Austin Whitney

Re: Not to Long Ago Recording History in my lifetime - 03/24/07 09:09 AM


First of you, you look like Mark Cuban's lost brother! = )

Second, so are you going to suggest some Mics after all that?

Third, I'd take a quality engineer using any of those old technologies over a hack using the newest and best stuff any time.

Posted By: Larry Read

Re: Not to Long Ago Recording History in my lifetime - 03/24/07 09:36 AM

Ok Brian you asked heres the primer I put up awhile back about MICROPHONES for recording 101

Mics are the most important link in any audio chain. Being a veteran recording engineer and composer as well as a voice talent has afforded me the opportunity to get to try out and use under real conditions just about every microphone made.
My personal favorites for VOCALS are as follows

#1 Neumann U47.. this the Granddaddy of all mics. The is the one everyone tries to emulate and copy. Used exclusively by Elvis, The Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Roy Orbison, M Jackson, and just about every high end recording ever made. Very costly price range 7,000 to 30,000 depending on condition priced out of the range for most studios and singers. No longer in production but a truly magical sound. Needs NO eq at all

#2 Neumann TLM49 The newer and not as pricey version of the above with an almost identical freq curve. List $1,199 can be had for around $1,699 and worth every single penny. Absolutely no sibilance problems, No P or K expolsions and that Famous Warm Deep Classic Neumann sound. A real winner in all depts. Uses the same K47 Cartrage as the above another very magical and musical microphone.

#3 AKG 414 this is a studio standard of the industry with a pedigree as long as a mile.. derived from the C12 another microphone legend for just under $1,000 street price..list 1,299 this is an almost insane quality mic for just about anything.
6 different patterns, roll offs and pads has the Wow factor Vocally works extremely well on Female vocals and Male vocals Incrediable on any Acoustic Insturment as well especially Piano. Many famous recordings have produced on this one as well.
This is a mic you cannot go wrong with!

#4 Blue Mics Blueberry. A strange and new age looking mic but with character all its own. Bright clear highs deep warm low end. Not a mic for everyone suited best for trained vocalists.
If interested try it out first! If you can handle it it will perform well beyond you expectations.
Has to be used in close proximity 2 to 3 inches from source.
Can be problematic in the P and sibliance dept but if you can keep it in control it's a really magical and excellent performer that rivals mics costing thousands more Only one patten Cardioid.
street price around $ 950.00

#5 EV RE or PL 20 this is a large diaphram mic used in just about every talk radio booth in the world. Been around forever, Many uses. Not as warm or friendly as the above but a Totally Flat response built with great quality and very rugged. It will accurately reproduce your voice Has few proximity problems with Pops Dynamic Cardroid Priced around $500

#6 Sennheiser MD 421 A real favorite in the lower priced range, Extremely good sounding on MALE vocals and certain female vocals.
No low end pop problems very well rounded warm sound.
A wonderful mic considering its low price. Around $375 single dynamic cardioid pattern

I have invloved with music and vocal production for over 30 years if you have a question don't be afraid to ask I am always learning as you should too.

Ultimately it's what works best for your voice.
I recive letters from people who lay claim that their $100 mic sounds great on their recordings. In response I offer this.

It boils down to... I am certain it sounds great on your recording until you hear it side by side with industry proven pro. Then it's blown into the weeds everytime.

It's A Fact almost all high ends mics need little if no EQ the studio knows how to use the right mic for the job.

You can plug them stright into the recording deck and get insane results..A [u]Tip> YOU GOT TO HAVE GREAT GOING IN to great coming out! No amount of eq will fix a cheap mic. This is a hard and fast truth. In the end you always get what you pay for and this my friends is hard line fact. So That concludes studio Mics 101... I hope this helps you gain some insight and knowleage that helps your career soar!

Posted By: Ray E. Strode

Re: Not to Long Ago Recording History in my lifetime - 03/24/07 04:37 PM

A lot of intresting items here. The Audio Tape Recorder was broght back from Germany after the second world war. Ampex Corporation was charged with improving the tape machines and 3 M company was charged with improving the tape. I think the oldest reel of tape I ever saw looked as if it had a backing of masking tape. I bought my first reel to reel in 1956. At that time actate was used for the backing of the tape. Later mylar was used. Early recorders ran at 30 inches per second. As quality improved slower speeds were added. Pro machines probably ran at 15 inches per second.

Intresting that home tape machines could be purchased 10 years after the machines were brought back from the war. To be sure home machines did have problems at that time.

Wire recorders probaby were gone by 1955. I did see a reel of wire whan I went in the Navy in 1955. Recorders were used in the planes to record radar signals for analysis. Tape was being used by then.

Sony and Phillips developed the CD player. It seems the first players and CD'S were introduced about 1979. I know I couldn't afford one!
Posted By: argo

Re: Not to Long Ago Recording History in my lifetime - 03/24/07 05:03 PM

I got my beta-max around 1979. I also cut my hair short and bought a Members only leather jacket. I was recording with a 2 track reel to reel using an echoplex for vocals and guitar solos. I also had an 8-track recorder but the damn thing would switch channels in the middle of a song. I still have a few 8-tracks I recorded with it(using the echoplex). Time is a funny thing. It turns bad stuff good.
Posted By: Brian Austin Whitney

Re: Not to Long Ago Recording History in my lifetime - 03/24/07 05:04 PM


You bought your first reel to reel in 1956? My mom and dad were 13 years old then! Ha!

Posted By: Larry Read

Re: Not to Long Ago Recording History in my lifetime - 03/24/07 06:54 PM

Biy you guys dig up a lot of memories. When I first recorded in that first studio I was 6 years old in 1956.
My parents took me there and got me to sing onto a disk. The Wire Recorder belonged to my dad later replaced by that MONO Wollensak tape unit. Ray is right by the time I had my own studio
15 ips was standard. They came out with noise reduction units Like Dolby and speed was finally cut down to 7 and a half.

Brian,it sounds like your the baby here.:)

Hey Ray...I heard a rumor AMPEX bit the dust anyone know if this is true?
they made some fine machines and Tape.

Tape wise AMPEX 426 and Scotch 226 had the same bias settings I used them in my facility for years

Is STUDER still in business.. they were at the time the most expensive decks in the world and offered at only the finest studios
Posted By: Joe Wrabek (D)

Re: Not to Long Ago Recording History in my lifetime - 03/24/07 08:15 PM

Ah, history... There was a period, in the late 1970s, when good recording equipment got very cheap. Any moderately successful band that was making money (and the Dodson Drifters were) could afford to have their own studio, and we did. I don't recall how much money we had tied up in equipment, but it was probably under $5,000. Centerpiece of the studio was a gigantic TEAC 4-track reel-to-reel recorder. We had the luxury of having a really good sound engineer (my brother-in-law), and some really good work came out of that studio.

Thing was, there was still one piece of the record process we could not do ourselves. The actual manufacture of a record--the 45 that you'd give to radio stations--had to be farmed out, and was still expensive. I think we spent a couple thousand dollars on the last 45 we did, and I don't remember getting that many records out of it. (And I did the graphic-design work, which saved us money.)

And that's the big change I see in the Modern World--the ability for independents to *manufacture* their own product relatively inexpensively. I remember thinking at the time CDs came out that it'd never catch on (of course, I felt the same about cassette tapes)--where would you put the artwork on such a teeny li'l thang? (I notice that's still a concern today.) I have been happy to have been proven wrong.

The Artist Formerly Known as Moonless Joe
Posted By: Ray E. Strode

Re: Not to Long Ago Recording History in my lifetime - 03/25/07 01:17 PM

The date is correct Brian. Time flys when you're having fun eh? Ampex was also responsible for developing the VCR. It seems the first ones were $2000.00. In the middle 60's I heard that Ampex was building a new factory somewhere in Illinois but the building was sitting idle and not finished. Don't know if they are still in business. I would guess they were absorbed by someone else. I don't even know if you can buy a new reel to reel tape deck. Maybe in Europe. You can still buy new turntables and magnetic cartridges.

I can't remember what I paid for that tape recorder in 1956 but it may be around 78 dollars. I was in the Navy then and my pay was $78.00 per month. I had money! It was the first time I heard my voice played back. It was something to behold. Hard to believe how far things have advanced since then.

Posted By: Rick Heenan

Re: Not to Long Ago Recording History in my lifetime - 04/10/07 09:49 PM

Excellent history lesson. I actually owned a small reel to reel, almost portable, that used 3" spools circa 1965. Quality of the recording really sucked and it only worked for a couple years. In the seventies I got a cassette recorder that could record 2 channels on. That gizmo lasted over 20 yrs. It had all quarter inch jacks so it was easy to use. Now I've got a 12 channel digital recorder that has all the bells and whistles on it. Anyway, I use all this stuff as tools to practice with. I still think that you should use a pro to record anything that goes public. You still need that objective ear...

PS A bit o trivia: The coating on the mylar tape is iron oxide that gets magnetically arranged into patterns. Thats why earlier tape had that brown rusty look to it.
Posted By: Larry Read

Re: Not to Long Ago Recording History in my lifetime - 04/12/07 07:38 AM

Those old 3 inch decks are fossils now probably collectable.
I remember those they came with one of those Crystal Microphones
with a clip on the back smile... it worked sorta smile

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